Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
About this time each spring, from the Associated Press down to our very own Zipse At The Track, every horse racing writer, blogger and handicapper (novice or experienced) has their own Kentucky Derby contenders list. Those individual lists vary, not only in the order of preference, but also the amount of horses covered. Since we are inside two weeks until the 139th Run For The Roses, and it's the vogue thing to do, Trackman has constructed his own list. Why not? Seems everybody from my boss down to my next door neighbor (both once a-year-horse players by the way) are asking me for my 2013 Kentucky Derby pick.
I haven't touted any one particular horse because the field isn't quite set, final preparations (workouts) haven't been completed, and post positions not yet drawn. But I'll be completed honest, after watching all the preps, there were some performances that truly made me believe certain horses just aren't cut out to compete with the very best three-year olds. There were also some performances that indicated certain horses may improve on Derby day and will be on the board at big odds, but it's hard for me to believe any one of them can win the Derby as long as some of the better contenders get clean trips. Therefore, my win contenders consist of a small group of 3-year olds, providing that select group receive trouble-free trips, and can handle the distance. Maybe I change my thinking after seeing them train the next couple of weeks, but right now based on past performances I only have confidence in these few horses heading up to the big day. So, with that said, I'm now ready to satisfy the many inquiring minds with the horses I truly believe have the best shot at winning the Kentucky Derby on May 4th.
*Until final workouts have been recorded and post positions determined, my elite three are listed alphabetically.
ORB--Became the main player of the Florida contingent after sweeping through the stretch with authority to win the Florida Derby. He's won from well off a fast pace (Fountain Of Youth) and from stalking modest fractions in the Florida Derby, so he's very versatile and not one-paced as first thought. Being positioned closer to the pace could help immensely against a crowded field like the Kentucky Derby. Is bred to handle the Derby distance, and loses absolutely nothing in the rider change from John Velazquez to Joel Rosario, who incidentally is no stranger to the colt having ridden Orb in his first five races, including a victory. This son of Mailbu Moon has reeled off four consecutive victories for trainer Shug McGaughey, and appears to be getting better every race. Look for this one to vie for favoritism on the Derby day.
REVOLUTIONARY--If your looking for a complete package in a Derby horse, look no further than this colt by War Pass. Hails from a top barn and has displayed athleticism, fearlessness, speed, guts and determination on more than one occasion. Winning traits you look for in a horse on the first Saturday in May. I know the competition he defeated was not top class, but the way he came through suggested that he is capable of winning better contests. Calvin Borel has been named to ride. The three-time winning Derby jockey knows Churchill Downs like the back of his hand, and has done masterful work of navigating prior trips in the Derby, and we all know the Derby is won by a horse that can overcome the trip. Revolutionary's breeding makes him a factor at 10 furlongs, and will provide Borel with plenty of horse to launch a winning bid.
VERRAZANO--Made a mockery of his first two races, winning by 7 3/4 lengths in his debut, followed by a 16 1/4 length score next out. He was ready for his initial stakes try as he drew off to win the Tampa Bay Derby. Up to that point, he hadn't been tested, but in his next start, the Wood Memorial, he was given a stern challenge, and for the first time in his brief career, Verrazano had to work to grind out a victory, but the More Than Ready found plenty to remain perfect in four starts. He won by less than a length, but he was by far the best. The way it panned out may have been very useful and educational for the Todd Pletcher trainee. Will attempt to break a longstanding Kentucky Derby jinx - win the race without having run as a 2-year-old. It's been done before, but only once in 138 previous running's, and that occurred in 1882 when Apollo was victorious. His pedigree doesn't guarantee that he'll love 1 1/4 miles, but there could well be enough quality, depth and substance to carry him through his distance test. If he can stay the 10 furlongs, this top class racehorse could very well end the dreaded curse and be draped in roses.
That's it folks, very short and for some I'm sure, not so sweet. My apologies, but for a handful of different reasons, I feel there is a significant drop off after the above trio when it comes to consideration for win honors. Of course, I will follow all the horses projected to be in the starting gate as they train up to the big show, therefore, I will also include my pre-Derby thoughts on them too.
LISTED ALPHABETICALLY- subject to change
This colt came right out of the blocks in his career running at a mile and a sixteenth, a very long distance for a horse to be running in his first go around, and he has never run less than one mile. He was pulling away in the 9 furlong Spiral Stakes at Keeneland, and that victory was enough to make sure that he was going to be a part of the Kentucky Derby this year. He isn't just a synthetics horse, he's also run on the dirt and turf, and quite well I may add. Black Onyx has three wins in his five career races, but I question the level of competition that this colt has faced. Hasn't competed against anything better than a Grade 3 field, which obviously is child's play in comparison to what he'll be running up against in the Run For the Roses. Stamina isn't expected to be an issue, and he could be a horse worth considering if there happens to be an off track track on Derby day.
Take a gander at this colt's record. In seven starts, he has finished in the top three six times, but has strictly done all his racing on turf/synthetics. In the Bluegrass Stakes, he made a sustained rally from between horses on the backstretch to five wide on the turn into the stretch and continued on well to the wire to just lose the race by less than 1/2 lengths. Never having run on dirt could be a wild card, but his sire, Kitten's Joy, has produced good dirt runners as well as turf horses. Gets in because of defections, and gives Pletcher FIVE horses for the race.
Two races back, he was the only horse to remotely challenge Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, then finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby, which to me was the weakest major Derby prep race. So he has enough points, but will it matter? Only likely to push the pace. If your leaning toward backing an off-the-pace runner or a deep closer, you have to be estatic his connections are going forward after that fade job in Arkansas.
Suffered a grabbed quarter in the Holy Bull, and was probably unable to be trained much for his next effort which turned out to be the G1 Florida Derby where he finished far in arrears. In the Arkansas Derby, with a combination of better soundness and fitness, he fired an excellent shot, racing very wide throughout and coming in a nice second behind Overanalyze. That effort got him to Churchill, a track he definitely likes. He broke his maiden there by nearly 10 lengths and finished second over the strip behind recently crowned Canadian juvenile champ, Uncaptured, in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall.
The most surprising aspect about the 2013 Kentucky Derby contenders is that Goldencents owns what could be considered the best resume. This 3-year-old colt comes in as winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Sham Stakes and Delta Downs Jackpot to go along with a fourth-place finish in the San Felipe and a second-place finish in the Champagne Stakes. The talent is there, and it has been apparent since his juvenile season. He had legitimate excuses in the two races he didn’t win. but when he’s on, he’s awfully tough. The question of his ability to get 10-furlongs looms large. When looking for a Derby horse, I want one that has a very strong pedigree that would indicate ten furlongs is within the realm of possibility. I don't see that when I look at this horse. Even though he was clearly best in the Santa Anita Derby winning with relative ease, I truly believe he took advantage of a very speed favoring surface which carried his tactical speed all the way to the wire. Trainer Doug O'Neil. who won last year's Derby, has a bonafide classy racehorse that could likely be the Derby pace-setter, but will he win over 1 1/4 miles at Churchill? Not if the pace is honest, as his stamina is suspect.
He’s lightly raced, with only 3-starts under his belt. His flashy win against weaker in the Sunland Derby earned him a spot in the field. So far, he’s progressed nicely. However, he’ll have to step it up quite a bit to compete with the best in this field. He’s trying to jump straight from a G3 win to the G1 Derby, having never gone farther than 1-1/16. He may end up being the only Bob Baffert trained horse in the field, which makes him dangerous in itself. Has plenty of upside. Who knows? - Maybe he's a freak and can be the real deal? My thoughts are he isn't. Plus, it's never a good thing when a Derby contender visits the hospital less than 3 weeks from the race, which this guy did for hoof issues. Reports are he seems to be fine, but there are concerns about his ability to stretch out to 1-1/4.
Arrived on the scene in winter and ran a hole in the wind a couple of times back in January at Gulfstream Park. First winning the Gulfstream Park Derby by six lengths on January 1st, then 3-weeks later, fitness and stamina helped him beat juvenile champ Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths in track record time. He seemed to 'come out of the blue' at Gulfstream though closer inspection of his juvenile form makes it all add up, and he ran another fine race when second to Orb in the Florida Derby. Some think the 9-week layoff was too long for him, and now he’ll be off 5-weeks by the time the gates open at Churchill. Whether he turned a corner as a 3-year-old or simply loved the footing on the Gulfstream main track is still a big question, but it seems like he is getting better with each race, In ten career starts, this colt has finished out of the money only twice, so his form merits respect. Breeding says he's better suited to middle distance races than the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby.
In his first start of the year last month, he was beaten soundly by Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, but he proved he is clearly a different (much more improved since then) colt and confirmed his class with a remarkable last to first performance in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. He did it against a moderate pace - and was visually impressive. Although there was no faulting his performance, except for the relatively slow clocking; it was on a vastly different surface (Polytrack), which cannot be overlooked. Ten furlongs will be just perfect, and he’ll be extremely dangerous if he receives a major pace meltdown. I don't really envision that scenario happening. He has the look of a horse that will over bet as well. Might warrant consideration for exotics at best.
Lines of Battle
He's Churchill bound via a pretty impressive score in the $2 million 1 3/16 United Arab Emirates Derby, but history show horses that have tried to used the race as a prep for the Kentucky Derby, have all failed miserably. However, those unsuccessful past results haven't deterred the connections of this colt from sending this runner over with hopes of trying to put an end to the futility. I'm not concerned about the slow time of the UAE Derby contested over the Tapeta surface, as ALL the major US Derby preps were painfully slow. What poses a deeper concern however is, he's untested and unproven on dirt. All his races have been either on turf or synthetics. Lines Of Battle did run once in the United States, but that was on the green at Santa Anita last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Unlike many previous foreign runners before him, he possesses a strong pedigree for the dirt surface, let alone the distance, so there lies a positive nugget. Certainly a type of pedigree that could spark a first-time dirt runner to a huge type of performance. Trainer Aidan O'Brien is well versed at shipping horses for the Kentucky Derby, but has come up empty each time. Most recently as last year with the winner of...you guessed it, the UAE Derby!! (Daddy Long Legs). The overall record this son of War Front has put forth thus far, makes him far more enticing than previous UAE Derby shippers, so he certainly bears respect on Derby day. To me, there are far less appealing runners entered in the big race than this one. Keep him penciled in....for now.
Made his career debut under the Twin Spires, closing for 3rd after a sluggish start in a tough maiden race. From there, trainer Tom Amoss sent him to Prairie Meadows to contest the Prairie Gold Juvenile, where he again had a troubled start then rolled late to come up a neck short in 2nd. Had five subsequent starts as a 2-year old with the finale being a breakout effort, a 10 3/4 -length romp in a Fair Grounds optional claiming contest. Forced to miss some works afterwards, he was a short horse on conditioning going into the G2 Risen Star Stakes and weakened late to wind up 7th. Much-improved effort with blinkers off in Louisiana Derby rallying well for 2nd place. He was game in the stretch, battling with and even putting his head in front of eventual winner Revolutionary. The pedigree for Mylute leans toward sprinting, but it's clearly evident that he can be successful over a route of ground. There is room for further development in Louisville, and this one has the look of an improving colt that can handle the Derby trip. Is reunited with popular rider Rosie Napravnik who was aboard for the aforementioned romp.
Lightly raced colt had his back against the wall in relation to qualifying points, but in the Wood Memorial, he ran the race he needed to in order to qualify. Against a painfully slow pace, he made up a solid amount of ground coming down the stretch, only to miss by less than a length. It certainly made up for the clunker he had in his 3-year old debut. Apparently his bounce-back Wood performance was good enough for jockey Javier Castellano to choose him over Revolutionary, and this speaks volumes as to his ability. Another furlong and a strongly run race, will be just what this colt wants. Possesses a deep closing kind of running style that usually works very well in the Kentucky Derby, but this one-trick pony will have to beg for the seas to part to find a way through. With just a maiden win to his credit, he’ll be bet much more heavily than his resume warrants.
What a difference a week made to this colt's Derby status. First, his Remsen runner-up Normandy Invasion ran a big race for second to Verrazano in the Wood, then Overanalyze himself in a major display of form reversal, drove past the competition to a decisive 4 1/4-length tally in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Disappointing as the chalk in his seasonal debut in Aqueduct's Gotham Stakes last month, this runner clearly needed the run first time out this year, and he is now on an upward curve. The Arkansas Derby was, however, a weak field with a slow time and a soft winning speed figure, and lost much of its value when the favorite War Academy was pulled up before the final turn. Still, this Todd Pletcher trainee was wide every step of the way and rallied on cue to take this field apart by the 1/16 pole as if they were not in the same league (and they weren't), and he fully deserves his place in the field. Without being conclusive, his pedigree offers some encouragement about distance capacity.
Was sharp in Rebel two starts back, don't know what happened in the Arkansas Derby last out. Maybe he was under trained for the race, or maybe it was because this speedy colt was taken out of his early running style and was asked instead to come from off the pace. Didn't work. Seemed discouraged by the dirt kicking into his face on the first turn and could do no better than a flat fifth. It was his only bad effort of the year. Is bred beautifully for 10 furlongs and his trainer, D.Wayne Lukas, has won four Kentucky Derbies. If Oxbow is to wear the roses in Louisville, he best strategy is to revert back to his preferred style of running while finding a way to finish off opposition late, a trait that has been lacking.
He has been pushed hard to get to the big race. After a horrific journey in the Louisiana Derby where he garnered zero points, connections ran him 3 weeks later at Keeneland and he acquired the needed points, so the Kentucky Derby will now be his 3rd start in just 5-weeks. Although only a maiden winner after six starts, he's shown flashes of serious talent and may be coming into his own after a good finishing second in the Blue Grass Stakes. Although it's always is difficult to assess synthetic track performances as they translate to the dirt at Churchill Downs, I can see this colt being a very tempting play in the Derby. His breeding suggests he's a solid candidate to excel at 1 1/4 miles.
Super Ninety Nine
Is in the Top Twenty in terms of points, but it hasn't been officially determined if he will even participate. Seems suspect as a 1-1/4 mile horse and confirmed that line of thinking by setting the Santa Anita Derby pace before fading in the stretch. If he still goes in the Kentucky Derby, it strictly will be as a ‘rabbit' for his stablemate Govenor Charlie. Those who back Super Ninety Nine will be praying for rain, as he has shown an affinity for an off track (Southwest Stakes).
Deserves another chance after coming out of the Wood Memorial with a lung infection. All things considered, it was a pretty gutsy effort that almost kept Normandy Invasion out of the Derby starting gate. Colt kept on beating everything put in front of him in New York and kept on improving, until he was gotten the better of in the Wood. The lack of pace probably compromised his chances as well, so do not write him off quite yet. Keep in mind, he was a winner of his first four races, and was visually impressive when coming from well off the pace (over a speed favoring track) to capture the Gotham with ease. I'm suspicious that this talented runner is not a 10 furlong type.
Will Take Charge
After his stretch running win over stablemate Oxbow in Rebel in mid-March, it was decided this colt would be trained up to the Derby. With that decision by his trainer, this horse will be fresh going into Kentucky. His win in the Rebel was solid, as well as a nice bounce back effort off a poor showing over a sloppy surface in the Southwest Stakes. Every time he runs well, he continues to get better. There are no surface or distance concerns with him, and he’s trained by one of the masters in D. Wayne Lukas. He may end up being one of the most overlooked horses in the field come Derby day.